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Which jungle is José Eustasio Rivera writing about?

“Before I became passionate about any woman, I gambled with my heart and violence won.”  – The Vortex


Armando Orozco Tovar


It is strange that Jose Eustasio Rivera (b. Neiva-Huilla 1886) died young in New York, not because a visit from the Grim Reaper is unusual for anyone, but because it reached the author of The Vortex so suddenly, when it was in that very metropolis that his work was discovered and republished in English.

“An extraordinary poet” said Horacio Quiroga, the Paraguayan writer, who only knew him “with lots of water and earth in between’”from a few letters. This other great of Latinamerican storytelling called on Rivera’s work to be considered an epic poem, “where the jungle, tropical, with its atmosphere, climate, its shadows, its rivers, its industries and its miseries, trembles with an epic pulse never before reached in Colombian literature”.

Horacio Quiroga calles Jose Eustasio Rivera “poet of the jungle”, a man who came from the country that suffered for five years from the War of the Triple Alliance – the Paraguayan War – in collusion with England, Brazil and Argentina, ending with the revolutionary project that redeemed his people from European colonisation.

Quiroga, also said that the author of sonnets, Land of Promise, began to published these works in Bogota’s magazines and newspapers after they were written exactly 100 years ago, with  his own love and knowledge of the jungle adopted as members of the Colombian delegation for marking the border frontier with Venezuela.

Rivera, on a tour of the south of the country serving in that same delegation, knew of “the horrors of Putumayo”, the dark heart of the exploitation of natural rubber so badly needed for cars and lorries by multinationals and their involvement in the First World War, which this year marks its centenary with trumpets, cannon fire, and the flowers of world leaders, placed on the tombs of those sacrificed in the name of big business.

José Eustasio Rivera denounced the appalling suffering of the indigenous population of this vast region, lost and abandoned inside the national territory because of the constitutional centrality of 1886.

The plunder was caused by the financial worth of this international bank of rubber. The inquisitive gaze of the poet covered not only this immense region, but the severity of the abuse it underwent.

Horacio Quiroga described the protagonists of The Vortex as “impulsive, emotional, headstrong, honest, drunk, and generous”. These are essential characteristics of the Colombian, who stripped himself of “honest”, offering a different view from abroad. That is to say, among an oligarchic, corrupt and mafia-like multitude, who had ruled over the country for centuries, his destiny was marked to go nowhere.

In the Riverian novel-like work, the opening paragraph reads: “Before I became passionate about any woman, I gambled with my heart and violence won”. For the heart of a Colombian is won by conflicts and fanaticism too, which does not finish on the battlefield, but above all in the minds. At Rivera’s request, Quiroga was commissioned to write the prologue to the North American edition, but as was hinted at in the beginning, the Colombian writer died mysteriously in New York – the headquarters of savage capitalism – before his time, on the 19th of February 1928. One year before the great economic crisis.

But, which jungle is José Eustasio Rivera writing about?

(Translated by Daniela Fetta) – Photos: Pixabay

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